TURIN – Fiat Automobiles SpA Monday sent some 48,000 workers home early for the holidays, as the auto maker idles all car and light-commercial-vehicle plants in Italy for three weeks as a result of the slumping European market.

The move is designed to cut inventories dramatically and hold back expenditures in order to better position Fiat against the current economic crisis. Fiat SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne already has said the auto maker won’t survive long-term without a partner, and reports surfaced in Italy over the weekend a tie-up with PSA Peugeot Citroen is under discussion.

Fiat plants in Brazil, Poland and Turkey will continue normal operations, a spokesman confirms.

Fiat is in a struggle to retain its leadership position in Brazil, where it is facing stiff competition from new products introduced by rival Volkswagen AG.

Production in Poland will be maintained to fill continued European demand for popular city cars, such as the Fiat Panda and Ciquencento, as well as the Ford Ka.

In Italy, through November Fiat sold some 375,000 small cars at very profitable prices.